The Linux mascot, Tux, is about to introduce himself to the masses—by driving really, really fast. Tux500.com, a Linux marketing site, is working to raise $350,000 to take primary sponsorship of Stephan Gregoire's car in the Indianapolis 500 race on May 27. So far, only about $6000 has been raised, solely through donations from users in the Linux community.
Though the $350,000 mark may be difficult to attain, Tux has already made it into the Indy500. The ceremonial first decal was applied today outside of Columbus, Ohio. For now, only Tux will appear on the nose of his car, but as donations continue to come in, he and other Linux promotions will make their way onto other parts of the car.
This campaign is perfect for maintaining the spirit of open-source. While Linux does receive contributions (both in funding and in code) from corporations, a large portion of Linux comes from individuals not paid by any corporation. By soliciting money straight from users, instead of major Linux-related corporations like Red Hat and Canonical, Tux500 is demonstrating to the masses that there exist people willing to commit time and money to ensuring Linux's survival. Since Linux, unlike OS X and Windows, has no single corporate sponsor, its reliability and usability could be (and is) called into question by those unfamiliar with it. If, however, public perception of the OS is strong enough, Linux can continue to grow and displace its competitors in the consumer market.
At the same time, though advertisement in a major sporting event is really unusual and very interesting, is it really the best way to increase public awareness of Linux? Especially if this campaign cannot raise enough money to prominently feature Linux on the sponsored car, will people watching the coverage of the race know what Tux is, or what he represents? This is actually the entire point to the campaign—to expose Tux and Linux to those outside the IT community. Those who watch sporting events such as the Indy500 are exactly those ready to learn about Linux.
The recent problems and disappointments with Vista and the discontinuation of Windows XP will create a demand for alternatives. If a customer enters a retail store and says they want a machine that does not have Vista, they won't have many options by the end of this year. If, however, these same customers know about Linux and can request a machine with Ubuntu pre-installed by name, retailers won't have any choice but to make Linux available.
Linux, at this point, is a worthwhile replacement for Windows, and the majority of computer users that would otherwise be unsure about Linux can get the same features and usability (and then some) they've come to expect. People need to be aware that it is no longer a sacrifice to use Linux instead of Windows, and that if they want to get away from Microsoft's hold on them, they have options.